What kind of world have you been born into, Chloe?

Mt Alvernia Hospital was still under renovation as you came into our world. It’s the same hospital your father was born in. You came out straightforwardly at about ten at night. You are such a beautiful girl, with simple habits: cry,beautiful feet drink, pass motion, sleep.  You are altogether beautiful – just look at your toes! You are so low- maintenance – to us grandparents, at least. It’s surprising that one so little like you can bring so much joy to so many. It is a privilege and blessing to be called ah kong (grandfather) before people have a chance to call me ah pek (old man).

You probably do not know but you have been born in Singapore, not Korea. What kind of world is this? Well for sure it is kind of stressful. From the time you are three till you die the stress will ebb and flow all through life. It may get overcrowded – as overcrowded as what your mum says Seoul has become. But this projected overpopulation has yet to happen, for we have four general elections before “Excuse me” becomes the most used phrase in Singapore. The cost of living has risen while our wages have been stagnant. Cannot be helped, the experts tell us: global competition. As far back as I can remember, every ten years or so, prices have doubled for most things.  I will change tack now lest you suffer infantile stress or depression.

The world you are born into is one with baby bonuses and one where young couples get the red-carpet for doing what the government wants. It is a world which will shape and condition you and you will need the help of good people to resist some of the pressures to think and behave in certain ways. Things are gradually changing with regards to this and you have come at the right time to this country.

Chloe This world is also a safe place to be in. It’s something we are happy for and have often taken for granted. You will feel safe walking down the streets at night. Just watch out when you cross the roads, especially at traffic lights. The healthcare here is generally good. The education system is generally improving and better than in many countries but it is also highly competitive. Your mum says it’s worse in Korea, so take her word for that and be thankful you are in Singapore! I pray you will be linguistically smart. You need to be. Here it’s English and Mandarin. And you need to learn Korean too to communicate with your grandmother, aunty and other relatives.

Lord, have mercy. You know I was never good at foreign languages. Let Chloe have it easy with learning languages.

 Chloe, you will grow to be tri-cultural. You will be enriched by two proud cultures rich in history: Chinese and Korean. You will also grow up in a home and a church culture and an atmosphere that exudes God’s love.  May this kingdom culture take root in you and grow to be the grand tree that overshadows all others. May you grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Besides the loving watch of your father and mother you will be soaked in the love and favours of your uncle, aunties, grandparents, loved ones and Christian community.

Who knows what this world will morph into? All kinds of changes will take place in Singapore. All you need to know is that God does not change. So whether in sunshine or darkness, in valley deep or mountain peak, you have a Father God who will hold your hands and provide and lead you on. You have family and church who will teach you and journey with you. Through it all, God is your ever present help in times of trouble.

Chloe, you are one very blessed girl.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

The pursuit of true happiness

pleasurable experiences often have social dimension If owning more and newer and better things does not make a person happy, then what does? In an article in the Straits Times, Tobias Chen and Ang Swee Hoon, a student and associate professor of NUS Business School, suggested that experiences have a greater effect of augmenting happiness than does the accumulation of possessions. “Increases in material possessions may well be accompanied by a decrease in happiness. This phenomenon, termed the “hedonic treadmill” says that as possessions increase, so do people’s expectations. Over time, people become less sensitised towards their possessions and require even more new possessions just to sustain the same level of happiness as before.”

They say research shows people gain more happiness by accumulating experiences. Going to the spa, attending a concert, playing golf, going on a holiday, and other pleasurable experiences: these does more for our personal happiness index than a new watch or house or car. The reason they theorize is that “experiences are more central to one’s self identity than material goods” as “people tend to describe themselves by the activities they engage in; rarely do they define themselves by the houses they live in, the cars they drive, or the watches they wear, even though these items convey certain characteristics about them”. The authors are on to something when they mentioned that part of the pleasurable experiences that give happiness had a “social” element, some relational factor which gave rise to this happiness.

Solomon, the son of David and Israel’s king of its golden age, had said that the accumulation of great wealth and possessions and experiencing of all kinds of conceivable pleasures does not give sustainable happiness. He added that neither does great works and accomplishments.

I said to myself, “Let’s go for it—experiment with pleasure, have a good time!” But there was nothing to it, nothing but smoke.

What do I think of the fun-filled life? Insane! Inane!
My verdict on the pursuit of happiness? Who needs it?
With the help of a bottle of wine
and all the wisdom I could muster,
I tried my level best
to penetrate the absurdity of life.
I wanted to get a handle on anything useful we mortals might do
during the years we spend on this earth.

4-8 Oh, I did great things: built houses,
planted vineyards,
designed gardens and parks
and planted a variety of fruit trees in them,
made pools of water
to irrigate the groves of trees.
I bought slaves, male and female,
who had children, giving me even more slaves;
then I acquired large herds and flocks,
larger than any before me in Jerusalem.
I piled up silver and gold,
loot from kings and kingdoms.
I gathered a chorus of singers to entertain me with song,
and—most exquisite of all pleasures—
voluptuous maidens for my bed.

9-10 Oh, how I prospered! I left all my predecessors in Jerusalem far behind, left them behind in the dust. What’s more, I kept a clear head through it all. Everything I wanted I took—I never said no to myself. I gave in to every impulse, held back nothing. I sucked the marrow of pleasure out of every task—my reward to myself for a hard day’s work!

11 Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing.

12-14 And then I took a hard look at what’s smart and what’s stupid. What’s left to do after you’ve been king? That’s a hard act to follow. You just do what you can, and that’s it. But I did see that it’s better to be smart than stupid, just as light is better than darkness. Even so, though the smart ones see where they’re going and the stupid ones grope in the dark, they’re all the same in the end. One fate for all—and that’s it.

15-16 When I realized that my fate’s the same as the fool’s, I had to ask myself, “So why bother being wise?” It’s all smoke, nothing but smoke. The smart and the stupid both disappear out of sight. In a day or two they’re both forgotten. Yes, both the smart and the stupid die, and that’s it.

17 I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is a bad business. It’s smoke—and spitting into the wind.

18-19 And I hated everything I’d accomplished and accumulated on this earth. I can’t take it with me—no, I have to leave it to whoever comes after me. Whether they’re worthy or worthless—and who’s to tell?—they’ll take over the earthly results of my intense thinking and hard work. Smoke.

20-23 That’s when I called it quits, gave up on anything that could be hoped for on this earth. What’s the point of working your fingers to the bone if you hand over what you worked for to someone who never lifted a finger for it? Smoke, that’s what it is. A bad business from start to finish. So what do you get from a life of hard labor? Pain and grief from dawn to dusk. Never a decent night’s rest. Nothing but smoke.(Ecclesiastes 2, the Message)

As Solomon concluded from his experience, this pursuit of happiness is “bad business”, “nothing but smoke”. The possibility of lasting and true happiness came only with the death and resurrection of Jesus. With that sinful human beings can enter into a living relationship with the Triune God in the Person of Jesus. And beyond this vertical relationship, human beings can choose to relate to one another in a redemptive way. There is this new Eden where the Triune God in the person of Jesus is in fellowship with all His people, a people empowered by His redemptive work, to relate in authentic Christian community. This is where people find their self identity: in Christ and in Christian community. This is where true happiness is.

What the Singapore general elections 2011 showed me

Lee Hsien Loong showed me how difficult it is for leaders and scholars and highly paid professionals to say- Sorry, we were wrong.

George Yeo showed me that at times leadership entailed a vicarious sacrifice: one had to pay the penalty for the wrongs of others so that others may continue.

Low Thia Kiang showed me that the race is not to the strong, nor the swift, but to the patient.

Nicole Seah showed me that the young can lead when given the space to do so.

Chen Show Mao showed me the best are seeking significance not a higher salary.

Chiam See Tong showed me what passion and focus over the long haul looked like.

Dr Chee Soon Juan showed me the director behind the scenes is as important as the actors on stage.

Singaporeans showed me that when anger and frustration reaches a certain level caution is thrown to the wind.

PAP candidates showed me that we need to make literature compulsory until Junior College level.

The whole election showed me that leaders exist to serve people not just with the head but also with the heart, and to do this well you need a good mix in the cabinet team….and take a good look at Jesus.

Recommended reading: Stillhaventfound’s thoughts on the general elections.